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PAN-IRISH NATIONAL CHAUVINISTS like to paint the Twelfth as a 'carnival of reaction' when drunken, hate-filled Orange bigots go on the rampage. They claim that Orange walks are nothing but sectarian coat-trailing exercises. Traditional and peaceful Orange walks are now opposed by Sinn Fein front groups calling themselves 'concerned citizens'. What's the reality? Here's how Rathcoole woman Margaret Jenkinson remembers the Twelfth.
The Twelfth - a woman's view
I WAS BORN and raised in Rathcoole, Co. Antrim. It's about five miles north of Belfast and was at one time the largest housing estate in Europe. It had very few facilities and our lives were fairly mundane then. There were none of these super TV's with wrap around sound, no CDs, computers or whatever. So the Twelfth was a bit of colour.
My first memories of the Twelfth would be of the other kids collecting for the bonie. They would rap at the door looking for wood. My mum wouldn't let me out to collect wood - that was for the boys and the wee millies! I remember that before the Twelfth lots of local bands would be out collecting money for new uniforms, instruments, bannerettes and so on. It was so exciting if they came down your street. We kids would follow the band with our makeshift drums. Mine was a saucepan and stick!
On the Eleventh night, small bonfires would be lit early for us kids as we'd be in bed well before midnight. Every house would have brought out a couple of chairs. We'd have food and drink, play games and sing. We even had someone with an accordion playing a few tunes. We actually had Catholic neighbours, but I don't recall them getting upset or anyone giving them grief. It was a real community atmosphere.
The Twelfth day itself was very exciting. My dad's in the Orange, so he'd be walking. He'd get up very early to be at the Master's house for his Ulster Fry! The rest of the family would go into town and get a place in front of Belfast City Hall. Our great game was to spot my dad and shout and wave to him - I always had a wee flag to wave! We'd also look out for any other friends or relatives who'd be walking. Afterwards we'd often go up to my Aunt's, where we'd later watch the West Belfast Lodges returning up the Shankill.
In those days - the late 60s and early 70s - the bands would be more varied than today. You'd get Pipe bands and also Silver bands. As a child it was all so exciting - the colour, the noise. I was amazed at the variety of uniforms. I always wanted to be the fella at the front of the band throwing and catching the band stick. There were always these old women who would dress up in Union Jack dresses. They'd clap, dance and 'sing' along with the bands. They were a fascinating sight! Also, if there were any visiting Orange men or women - say from Canada or South Africa - they would always get a great round of applause.
Unfortunately, my mother was ill quite a lot in her later life, so we'd watch the Belfast parade on TV. It was actually on live then. Again I'd look out for my dad on the TV. It was all very good natured. I don't remember any trouble at the Twelfth. Everybody was there for the music, colour and atmosphere. I know Catholics who have seen the parade and have no problems with it. Ironically, the only trouble I know of involved a Catholic fella (who was originally from Bawnmore) who lived in Rathcoole. He was on a Rathcoole bus coming from the town around the Twelfth. His co-religionists from Bawnmore stoned the bus and he nearly got his eye put out. How about that for mindless hatred and sectarianism?
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